UPOV to decide on farmers’ and civil society participation in its sessions

13 October 2010

UPOV is an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Geneva (Switzerland) where international rules on plant variety protection are defined with major impacts for food sovereignty, biodiversity and farmers’ rights. When representatives of the 68 member countries of UPOV meet in Geneva from 19-21 October they will review the applications for observer status from the Association for Plant Breeding for the Benefit of Society (APBREBES) and the European Coordination of Via Campesina (ECVC). In October 2009, UPOV rejected a first application by APBREBES and ECVC for observer status in UPOV’s bodies (see: www.evb.ch/en/p25016720.html). However APBREBES and ECVC are more optimistic now due to increased support. In an open letter addressed to Mr. Francis Gurry, Secretary General of UPOV; Mr. Rolf Jördens, Vice-Secretary General of UPOV; and to Member States of UPOV, more than 80 farmer and other non-governmental organizations supported APBREBES and ECVC’s application for observer status (see: www.twnside.org.sg/announcement/Open_letter_UPOV_with_signatories.pdf). The Norwegian minister for Agriculture and Food, Lars Peder Brekk also points out in a letter of support that “a well balanced group of observers, representing all relevant stakeholders, would be supportive for the work of UPOV. Today, farmers’ groups and organisations with knowledge and experience on agricultural biodiversity and food security are not adequately represented. The accreditation of APBREBES and ECVC would therefore be an important step to enable the Organisation to cope with future challenges.” In a letter to UPOV, Manfred Bötsch, the Director of the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG) also supports the request of ECVC as well as APBREBES for observer status at UPOV. The letter states: The experience and competence of these international non-governmental organisations fall within the scope regulated by the UPOV-agreement. We are convinced that through the involvement of these stakeholders the concerns of UPOV will receive broader support and thus a larger outreach. The challenges of the future require a constructive involvement of all stakeholders. (Translated by APBREBES) “Applications of APBREBES and ECVC must be accepted if UPOV is to be recognized as being inclusive, taking into account the interest of farmers and the broader public. The status quo wherein UPOV favors and prefers to largely involve right-holders, private seed companies, and their representatives in its decision making processes is not acceptable. To be seen as a credible intergovernmental organisation UPOV must facilitate and allow representation of a variety of views in the Organization’s discussions. Such a practice is consistent with the present global trend of more inclusive participation of civil society in multilateral intergovernmental fora.” -- Francois Meienberg, Berne Declaration, a founding member of APBREBES “Farmers are the main users of seeds protected through the intellectual property rights-based system of UPOV. It is unreasonable to exclude farmers from the process when such rights are discussed. They have the right to be informed and to observe what happens in UPOV.” -- Josie Riffaud, Head of biodiversity, seeds and environment in ECVC, which represents 24 farmer organizations in 16 European countries and around 200 000 producers. “Last year, the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food documented the possible adverse impact of plant variety protection laws on the lives of farmers and on food sovereignty. Thus the impact of UPOV on food sovereignty and on management of genetic resources is among our reasons for seeking broader participation in UPOV. Member organizations of APBREBES closely follow negotiations related to genetic resources on-going in the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the FAO treaty on plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. Thus APBREBES’ participation in UPOV could contribute to better coherence and coordination among different relevant inter-governmental fora.” --Bell Batta Torheim, from Development Fund, another member of APBREBES. “We believe that UPOV delegates meeting next week will understand the added value we will bring into the work of UPOV. Additionally, the present trend is for increased transparency and participation in intergovernmental organizations such as seen in the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Thus it would be inappropriate for UPOV to refuse observer status to farmer and civil organisation organizations that have competence over matters related to UPOV.” -- Sangeeta Shashikant from Third World Network, a member of APBREBES.

For further information contact: 

  • Josie Riffaud, Member of ECVC’s Coordination Committee, Tel: +33 6 13 10 52 91
  • François Meienberg, Berne Declaration (APBREBES), Tel: +41 79 796 76 12, email: food@evb.ch
  • Bell Batta Torheim, Development Fund (APBREBES), Mobile: +47 41 1234 04, email: bell@utviklingsfondet.no
  • Sangeeta Shashikant, Third World Network (APBREBES), Mobile: +41 78 757 2331, Email: sangeeta@thirdworldnetwork.net

Notes to the editor: 

  1. ECVC is a member of Via Campesina, the biggest international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers. ECVC is composed of 24 farmers and agricultural workers’ unions from across Europe. APBREBES is founded by organizations working on plant breeding and issues related to UPOV regulations.
  2. APBREBES is made up of the following organizations: Berne Declaration (Switzerland); Center for International Environmental Law (USA); Community Technology Development Trust (Zimbabwe); Development Fund (Norway); Local Initiatives for Biodiversity, Research and Development (Nepal); Searice - The Southeast Asia Regional Initiative for Community Empowerment (Philippines); and Third World Network (Malaysia).